SUMMER NON-READING

Whatever Fred Thompson’s been doing since he finished pretending to run against John McCain for President, it’s sure kept him busy. Otherwise he surely would have read in the newspaper that John McCain doesn’t like too much talk about his POW service. And you’d think Fred would have been more careful than to say that being a POW doesn’t qualify you to be President – must have missed it when Wesley Clark got savaged by Republicans and the media for saying the same thing.

I guess if Fred managed to miss all that, we shouldn’t be surprised that he hasn’t yet gotten around to reading the Obama speech Fred claims was “designed to appeal to American critics abroad” in Berlin (“…just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe”).

Seems Fred’s sure been busy. Guess it really wasn’t fair for anyone to call him lazy after all.

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A CAMPAIGN ABOUT CHANGE VERSUS A CAMPAIGN ABOUT MCCAIN?

Reading Michael Crowley’s Mark Salter profile in TNR, you wonder how real McCainiacs can really keep a straight face while arguing that the Obama campaign is the one driven by a cult of personality built around a narcissist who feels he’s owed the presidency. Salter is apparently livid that Obama has stolen McCain’s themes of having matured out of a colorful childhood and been bettered by patriotism and commitment to public service. Did Mark Salter make it through his top perch in John McCain’s 2000 campaign without ever listening to a George W. Bush speech? Salter even jokes

“I often regret that we didn’t copyright ‘serving a cause greater than your self-interest,'” he cracks.

And Barack Obama is supposed to have an arrogance problem? Crowley also resurrects Mark Salter’s tirade against a college graduating class whose student speaker had the temerity to criticize McCain before he spoke:

Should you grow up and ever get down to the hard business of making a living and finding a purpose for your lives beyond self-indulgence some of you might then know a happiness far more sublime than the fleeting pleasure of living in an echo chamber. And if you are that fortunate, you might look back on the day of your graduation and your discourtesy to a good and honest man with a little shame and the certain knowledge that it is very unlikely any of you will ever posses one small fraction of the character of John McCain.

This isn’t some out of control staffer – this is the guy who survives every McCainland shake-up, ghost-writes everything, conceived, crafts, and protects the McCain mythology, etc. But his comments are striking in part because they echo the ethos that emanates from so much of McCain’s campaign: this sense that John McCain deserves the presidency, even if America isn’t good enough to deserve John McCain.

Who else would put up an internet ad about how the candidate as an elite boarding school student learned the honor code and committed to turn in other boys if they were cheating – and he’s applied those values ever since? Or one that just consists of speechifying by their guy and quotes from Teddy Roosevelt? Can you imagine if Barack Obama tried to pull that? Meanwhile McCain’s campaign brings up his POW experience at every conceivable opportunity while demanding he be recognized as too modest to talk about it – and how dare Wes Clark question whether it qualifies him to be president? (Remember the attacks on John Kerry for talking too much about his purple hearts)

Today Obama is predictably under attack from conservatives for the ostensible arrogance of giving a speech to a big crowd outside the United States. In that speech, Obama talks about his personal story and what he loves about America – echoing, though understandably not repeating his statement in his convention speech that “in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.” This is the most common intersection of autobiography and patriotism in an Obama speech: America is a great country which has made so much possible for me. With McCain, the formulation is more often: I love America, and I’ve sacrificed for America my whole life.

McCain is of course entitled to tout his military service, which is certainly more admirable than what he’s done in the United States Senate. And his campaign’s steady emphasis on McCain’s story and character I’m sure is driven in part by recognition that more people cast their votes on such things – ethos rather than logos in Paul Waldman’s formulation. But – aside from Crowley’s observation that McCain’s character appeal seems more attuned to what voters wanted in 2000 than in 2008 – I have to hope that it’s not just we “base voters” who find his campaign’s sense of entitlement grating.

Everyone seems now to agree that McCain’s wasn’t helped by the speech he gave the night Obama clinched his delegate majority. But it wasn’t just the green background – McCain came off like John Lithgow’s disapproving father figure in Footloose warning America away from the dangers of Barack Obama’s dancing. Or like Gore Vidal’s character (the Democrat) lecturing the debate audience not to fall for the titular Republican in Bob Roberts. It seemed like the best case scenario is you walk away convinced that however exciting it would be to vote Obama, you’d really better vote for McCain (and eat your vegetables). That speech brought home a sense of McCain as the candidate of obligation. Salter’s screeds bring home the sense that we’re doubly obligated to vote for McCain:

First, because voting Obama is a risky indulgence. Second, because after all McCain’s done for us, we owe it to him.

Which came first: the mandate that we have to vote for John McCain, or the low level of enthusiasm (14% in a recent survey) among his supporters?

Which is more arrogant and presumptuous: “We are the ones we have been waiting for” or “The American president America has been waiting for”?

David Corn slams Howard Dean over Roy Neel:

There has always been a disconnect in the Dean campaign between the man and the movement. If two years ago someone cooked up the idea to create a progressive, reform-minded grassroots crusade that would focus on harnessing “people power” to confront Washington’s money-and-power culture and a leader for such an effort was needed, Dean’s name would not have jumped to mind. Senator Paul Wellstone maybe, not Dean. Yet thousands of Americans were yearning for such an endeavor, and Dean found a way to tap into their desires. It was not the most natural or conventional of couplings, but it happened. And he was propelled to the front of the presidential pack.

Is Dean filing for divorce?

Maybe what we’re seeing here is the Kerry, Edwards, and Clark campaigns becoming more like Dean’s just at the point at which his is becoming more like theirs…

Dean did an effective job making the case against the PATRIOT Act but framed in terms of stopping future assaults on civil liberties rather than calling to undo the recent ones. Why isn’t anyone calling Edwards on his role in drafting it?

Glad to see the way the rhetoric within the Democratic party has shifted over the past few years. Part of that, no doubt, is being out of power; part of that is the success of the “anti-globalization” movement in putting the issue, so to speak, on the map. For Dean to say that we’ve given global rights to corporations but not to workers is right on; to describe that as having done half the job but forgotten the other half smacks of a disingenuous attempt to reconcile his stance with his record.

Kucinich laid out the case for single-payer health insurance clearly and sharply (and effectively dismissed the idea that the Clintons had pursued such a plan), and Sharpton made the compelling moral argument for such a system. What’s most interesting to me about the other candidates’ alternatives is that none of them mounted an argument (true, they’re generally not very good ones) against such a system any stronger than Clark’s “Let’s fix the one we have.”

This is good news for Kerry, of course, who goes into February 2 two for two. Also for Clark, who seized that third metaphorical ticket out of New Hampshire that pundits at least seem to think is important, and more importantly avoided that fifth-place standing that looked like a real possibility given reports about his machine on the ground. Good news also, I’d argue, for Dean, the only candidate to run in both Iowa and New Hampshire and rank higher this time, and faces two candidates sharing the top three with him in New Hampshire – Kerry and Clark – who are struggling for the same electable-veteran niche.

Michael Moore defends his description, while endorsing Wesley Clark, of Bush as a deserter. My sense is that technically speaking, Bush was guilty either of desertion or of going AWOL – funny, that one has a pretty negative conotation too. Getting an explanation from Peter Jennings of why he called on Clark to refute Moore’s charge of absurd is about as likely as getting an explanation from Moore of how to reconcile his condemnation of the Kosovo campaign with his praise of the man who led it.

My predictions for tomorrow:

Kerry comes in first, simply because Dean hasn’t had enough time to catch up after recovering from whatever combination of his combative stance in Iowa/ his overly-apologetic response to his combative stance in Iowa/ his insufficiently apologetic response to his combative stance in Iowa/ media harping on an imagined combative stance in Iowa/ some combination of the above one may choose to blame for the beating he took in the polls in the past week. Dean comes in second and he and Kerry both pitch themselves as comeback kids; Kerry as usual finds the media more credulous than Dean. Dean comes in closer to Kerry than to the Edwards, who comes in third behind him, lacking the committed and organized constituencies Kerry and Dean have mobilized. Clark does not much, if any, better than he’s been expected to the past few days, and likely even worse – in any case drastically worse than he was expected to a few weeks ago before Kerry stole his part as the anointed “Anti-Dean” and his campaign fumbled and failed to advance a coherent vision or take advantage of what could have been a real head start to build a machine in New Hampshire. If Clark does particularly badly, he strikes me as more likely than any of the other candidates to drop out shortly after, thus ending further embarassment and leaving his Presidential run as a whimsical coda on what many see as an accomplished career as a military public servant. Lieberman does worse than Clark, claims that he exceeded expectations, and argues that Kerry and Dean are both soft on defense and that only he represents a real choice between extremists. Kucinich does much better than Sharpton.